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Chinese Student Called "Real Dynamo"

Chinese Student Called "Real Dynamo"(Posted: December 19, 2011)

What started out as simple job shadowing opportunities for a University of Arkansas - Fort Smith student from China has turned into something much bigger and with more impact.

Yao Yishan, 22, visited the Career Services Office at UAFS and talked with Pat Widders of Alma, executive director, about her desire to learn more about American business and culture. Widders scheduled what could have been only day-long visits at a local elementary school, a bank and a social services agency.

"After she did her job shadowing," Widders said, "Sherry, which is her American name, showed up at my door. Those opportunities we gave her introduced her to some areas that really touched her heart. You might say she wanted to save the world, but I told her, "Let's just save a small part of it.' She has also gone beyond job shadowing to volunteering at a couple of places."

The 22-year-old is from Tianjin University of Technology, which has an exchange agreement with UAFS. She plans to continue her education through a master's degree and obtain employment in the social work arena.

"Through Comprehensive Juvenile Services Inc., she started out to find ways to help the seven girls at the Girls Shelter," said Widders. "She collected, with the assistance of Boreham Library staff, more than 700 books to give to the shelter. She got her roommate involved and they sought the help of several campus organizations and classes. They've also raised money and are buying Christmas gifts for the girls."

Yao, which is her last name but is written first in China, said she found out about the tough family situations of the residents of the shelter and wanted to do something to help them. Roommate Melanie Davis, 22, of Stigler helped Yao discover groups and churches to ask for assistance. Fellow student Katie Tyler of Inola, Okla., has also been helping with the project, which is named the "Butterfly Project." Yao gave it that name because of the transformation they hope to see in the girls, just like caterpillars become butterflies.

Davis said Yao's enthusiasm "rubbed off" on her.

"I was very impressed with Sherry when she first came to me because she had such a passion to work with these girls," said Davis. "She was concerned that people wouldn't want to help, but I assured her people would want to help girls like that."

Davis said Yao's project also provided the push which Davis said she herself needed in order to become more involved.

"I decided I was ready to help my roommate with this effort," Davis said. "I've been so proud of her. She's done such a wonderful job. She is an inspiration."

Davis has also been enjoying the service to others.

"I actually wanted to have an opportunity to serve the community in a different way, and she provided that," said Davis.

Janice Justice, assistant director of Comprehensive Juvenile Services Inc., said she has enjoyed getting to know Yao.

"I'm thankful to Pat for introducing Sherry to us," said Justice. "I noticed the first day I spent with her as I explained about our agency that she was like a sponge, soaking up every word about the juvenile justice system in Arkansas. She got so excited about what we do. She was impressed with our agency, but I was so impressed with her."

Comprehensive Juvenile Services is the contract provider for the State of Arkansas Division of Youth Services to provide youth services in a six-county area. CJS then subcontracts with the Girls Shelter to provide one of the services, residential treatment. Justice said Yao's excitement about CJS came from the differences between Chinese and American handling of youth experiencing problems.

"She has a really big heart," said Justice. "I think she's getting into the right field, wherever she ends up in social services. She fell in love with those girls and saw their needs. She is a dynamo, raising money and buying things to fulfill their Christmas wishes. I feel blessed to have met her."

Some of the funds she has collected came from her classmates in a class titled "Transformational Leadership," one of Yao's classes in the Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership program.

"I told them what I wanted to do," Yao said, "and they said they wanted to help."

She also visited some of the classes taught by her other professors and told of the need to those at Central Christian Church. In addition, her roommate's sister goes to Stigler High School, and the request for donations was made there. Davis's sisters are Student Council officers at the school.

"They raised $425," said Davis, "which is being sent to Comprehensive Juvenile Services."

Yao said in addition to the books collected for the shelter, she has additional gifts for the girls.

"I'm going today to buy more gifts, since we still have $217," she said, "and we had gotten their Christmas wish lists from the shelter."

Yao is also collecting messages of Christmas greetings in a notebook, which she plans to give to the girls.

"I already have 200," she said. "Everyone has been generous, and I so appreciate it."

Yao said the girls at the shelter weren't the only ones benefiting by what she and the others have done for the shelter residents.

"Spending time playing games and talking with them made the girls fee loved," she said, "and I received the same blessing as the girls. That experience made me dwell deeper about my life as well. I understand more about thankfulness and contentment over the circumstances of my life. I am so grateful for all the education and service opportunities that UA Fort Smith has been giving me."

She said she loves Arkansas and how friendly the people are.

"The food is the thing that I believe is most different from China," she said. "I have met excellent professors, a delightful host family and hospitable friends. I enjoy each day here and believe this experience will be the most memorable treasure in my heart for all my life."

Yao's American name of "Sherry" was given to her by her father, who was very proficient in English, when she was born. Her nickname at home, however, is Shan-Shan, a variation of her Chinese first name.

Yao, who expects to graduate in May, first came to the United States in August 2010 and perfected her English with the ELS Language Center located on the UAFS campus. ELS is the largest network of campus-based English language instruction centers in the world, and UAFS is an affiliate partner school in the ELS network. She then enrolled in UAFS classes in January 2011.

Takeo Suzuki of Fort Smith, executive director of international relations, said several other international students at UAFS also volunteer with area non-profit organizations.

"Many international students are actively involved with local non-profits and enjoy meeting with local people and supporting our community outreach program," said Suzuki. For more information, contact Suzuki at 479-788-7166.

Article by: Sondra LaMar, Director of Public Relations
Photo(s) by: Corey S. Krasko, Photographer, Marketing & Communications Office, and Kevin Ledford, Student Photographer

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